Finding a great preschool can be an overwhelming process, as countless conversations on Circle of Moms will attest, but we're trying to make it easier! To help kickstart your preschool search, we've rounded up 10 important factors to consider (aside from cost) when choosing a preschool for your child, including both information you can research at home and key questions to ask on site visits.
"Word of mouth is priceless," shares Christin H., a mother of three children. The sheer number of preschool choices in any given city can make the research process seem overwhelming. To narrow your search, many Circle of Moms members suggest asking friends and family for recommendations. As Rachel F. shares: "We were referred by a coworker, and I knew other parents with kids there...Opinions from current/previous parents definitely helped us since there are so many to choose from and it’s hard to know which is best."
2. Curriculum and Structure
As Griselda H. advised, you have many different preschool teaching philosophies and curriculums to choose from: "When choosing a preschool, you need to keep in mind if you want to put your child in a 'developmental' or 'academic' preschool." From Montessori to Waldorf to Reggio-Emilia, each preschool will have a particular daily structure and typical activities, so be sure to ask what a typical day would look like.
Is it more convenient to have your child’s preschool near home or work? Near your work, your partner's, or somewhere between? Working out the logistics of how you’ll be dropping off and picking up your child from preschool can help narrow down your options.
4. Staff-to-Child Ratios
As Christy M. advises, ask about the staff-to-child ratios of potential preschools: "What are their ratios of teachers to children? Do they follow state ratios or something lower?" Mother-of-two Kelly A. agrees: "A red flag should go up if there seems to be too many kids and not enough adults to care for them."
5. Interaction between Staff and Children
When you visit a potential preschool, moms liks Judy R. recommend observing how the staff and children interact: "Do the children in the class room approach the adults? Do the teachers seem to huddle and chat to each other or play with the children? Try to overhear teacher’s tone of voice when you're in the hall outside the classroom, do they speak to the children or bark orders? You want a center that has a loving nurturing environment. One that stimulates a child’s curiosity. If you find that, the child will come to love school."
6. Staff Turnover Rate
"Ask about staff turnover rate," advises Canadian mom Nicole K. "If it is high (change in staff every couple of months) avoid them. Child care centers or preschools with high staff turnover rates mean the staff are unhappy and there is something not necessarily apparent that is wrong, whether it is because the staff are under paid, the center is managed poorly or the center is understaffed, never has enough money for art supplies or outside toys, etc."
7. Discipline Policy
"What type of system do they use when there is a problem? Positive reinforcement? Time out?" Marcy C., mother of a 4-year-old, is one of several Circle of Moms members who recommend checking that a potential preschool uses discipline methods you approve of.
While preschools are apt to be messy (they are a playroom for young children, after all), many moms advise checking that potential preschools are still reasonably clean. Chiquita B. shares: "The first thing I do is take a walk through the kitchen and bathroom of the school. That way I can see how they feel about hygiene, as I think it is very important."
Are you selective about what your child eats? Look into what kinds of foods are served to make sure the menu is consistent with your child's health and nutritional needs. Allergies can also be an issue, as Michelle P. shared: "Lots of centres are peanut and egg free but they explained that they cannot be totally responsible for what is eaten beforehand."
10. Gut Reaction
Valerie W. is one of many Circle of Moms members who stress that you should trust your gut reactions about preschools: "If you get a bad feeling about a place, don't bring your child there. You are probably right. Also always trust your gut. If something seems off about a place, trust this instinct."
Looking for more information about preschools?
From debates about Montessori preschools to conversations about preschool tuition, Circle of Moms has information on all kinds of educational topics. Try joining communities like Moms of Preschoolers and Working Moms to connect with other moms facing similar challenges.